Five years a parent
It is five o’clock on a January morning in 2014 and I’m driving a pickup truck on the Grand Central Parkway. My pregnant wife is in the passenger’s seat. It’s dark and the roads are nearly deserted.
“In a few hours we’re going to be parents,” I tell her. “Isn’t that crazy?” She agrees.
This week our older girls, fraternal twins, will turn five. That’s a half decade of parenting in the can. We have three now, the youngest will be three in June, sharing a birthday with one of her uncles.
Having kids is a definite turning point in everyone’s life, and it brings a kind of happiness that is hard to achieve in other places. But it’s not panacea where unicorns and rainbows to replace the regular sturm und drang of life. All the same stresses and difficulties are there, and now they are there with new mouths to feed and diapers to change. Kids won’t turn you into a better person. You’ll still be an angry curmudgeon if you were one before their birth. But as miserable as your life may get from that point onward, your children will be a consistent reason to be happy, even when they are throwing up on you.
I am extremely fortunate that I went into parenthood with a very wide support network, a steady paycheck and a happy marriage. Not everyone has that. When I was born my parents were half the age I was when I had kids. Neither one had a college degree at the time. I started out way ahead; I have no excuses if my kids become serial killers.
Luckily, our kids are great and continue to inspire us to be better people. I see how bright they are and how they enjoy learning and I want them to never stop loving life or the pursuit of knowledge. Despite the many stresses and strains; my wife and I enjoy our molding, shaping and unconditionally loving these impressionable young lives. It’s an awesome responsibility but also one of unlimited potential.
I vowed not to be the kind of parent that gauged someone’s worth by whether or not they reproduced – I faced enough of that before I had children.
“So do you have a family?” someone asked me at a business reception years before I met my wife. They meant to ask if I was married and had kids, but the question seemed like they were checking to see if I had hatched out of an egg. Well I was raised by wolves and since I’m not biologically wolf I can’t track down the pack that raised me by my sense of smell, so no I guess. —was how I should have answered, but I mumbled a simple ‘no’ and noted I wasn’t married and changed the subject.
And while my kids are crushing life, we must refuse to put their accomplishments in place of our own. No one outside a tight circle of family and friends care how awesome your kids are, and having children is no excuse to fall on your face in every other aspect of life. No slacking.
This weekend we’ll be hosting a kids’ birthday party for the twins with pizza, cake and animals. It will be a big, tiring, stressful day but one that will have a happy ending because we get to spend it with our children.
Five years have gone by fast. Wish us luck on the next fifteen.
College Point discovery: The Poppenhusen Institute
It was a Saturday and we were looking for something family friendly to do with the kids.
For a long time, I studiously avoided anything deemed “family friendly” as it was either specifically for children like ‘Sesame Street’ or something that was toned down and devoid of any of the reality-driven spice of life. But my time as a parent has changed my view and definition.
For us, “family friendly” doesn’t mean for something sanitized or dumbed-down, it means we want to be able to find a place to change a diaper. We are not afraid of adult content corrupting our children except in extreme examples; we’re afraid of adult content boring the crap out of our children.
Case in point: we looked up local events on our local Macaroni Kid and found an Oktoberfest nearby. You wouldn’t normally think that an Oktoberfest celebration would be a place to take children, that it would be nothing but loud, beer-soaked hipsters being dramatically unaware. And maybe in Brooklyn that would be the case, but the Poppenhusen Institute of College Point, Queens proved that wrong. We live not too far from this institution, which is 150 years old now. A center for German culture, it’s evolved to become a lot more without losing sight of its original cultural mission.
College Point is somewhat of an out-of-the-way place by New York City standards. There’s almost a small community village feeling to it as its small businesses have thrived. Driving down 14th Street, where the Institute is, the businesses of College Point Avenue recede and the street is a bit narrower and more residential, until you get closer to the water, where more industrial businesses are. The Poppenhusen Institute is bordered by businesses but in an area which is still largely residential. It’s got a fenced-in property (another bonus for bringing small children) and is a magnificent building that dates to 1868.
Being the day of the fall equinox, the weather was perfect for the outdoor event, which was held in the shaded back yard of the Institute. Decorated with blue and white balloons, we paid $18 admission and that included a lot of free entertainment and an area of games for kids. There was free face painting for children and prizes as well.
On site was an award-winning artist, Brian Lipperd, painting portraits. He produced a great portrait of your youngest daughter and touched it up when she smeared it. This artist formerly worked as a portrait artist in Florence, Italy and has had other prestigious residences around the world and will be teaching art classes at the Poppenhusen Institute. You think they have awesome portrait artists at Chuck E Cheese? Think again.
The Institute was once a village community center for College Point, it even served as a local sheriff’s station and still has two small jail cells that housed town drunks or other minor miscreants. It was the site of the first free public kindergarten in the United States. It has a magnificent performance space as well as an exhibit of early Native American life of the area.
The food was affordable and we bought hot dogs for the kids and my wife and I enjoyed some bratwurst, as it was an Oktoberfest and that felt like the right thing to do. There was traditional German music and men in lederhosen and women in traditional German dresses performed dances. My wife came in second place in a beer stein holding contest, winning a nice beer stein filled with beer.
The Poppenhusen Institute holds painting classes for children and has numerous performances and things worth doing. It is well worth the trip to College Point to visit this cultural treasure.
Fatherly adventures of being your children’s +1
This past weekend I had several hours alone with my three children. Normally we have full family outings on the weekend but it helps keep our family healthy if my wife gets a break from being around children for at least a few hours each week.
There was a Twist & Sprout festival at the Queens Botanical Garden and I decided this would be a good place to take our three daughters. We had been there last year and it was a good time with plenty to offer the kids.
After getting my girls out of the van and dropping off some compost, we set off to explore the festival. Arriving at the Queens Botanical Garden with my daughters is like being a celebrity’s date at an award’s ceremony. Because they are there at least twice a week for the Forest Explorers program, my girls know a lot of the people who work there. One of the teachers at the program recently graduated college and gave my girls big hugs. Other employees waved hello to us from their zooming golf carts or from arts & crafts tables.
There was a puppet show and the puppeteer was the mother of another one of the students at the Forest Explorers program. Other parents stopped to chat with me; they recognized my daughters and asked where my wife was. It was all very friendly, but I was definitely a stranger among them. I was appreciated for bringing my girls there. No doubt they are the better life of the party.
While I pride myself on being a good Dad, the point was driven home that for most hours in the week, I am largely absent from my daughters’ lives. I am out the door to catch a 6:30 a.m. bus in the morning and with afternoon rush-hour traffic I am usually not home before 7 p.m. It is dinner time soon after I arrive home and time for bed soon after that. The weekends are when I try to catch up and cram a lot of living into two days before the cycle starts up again, at least on most weekends (sometimes I have to work on the weekends).
Since 2014 I have been my children’s +1. In theory I could show up at a family gathering without them, but I’d face an extremely disappointed crowd. There’s no substitute for adorable young children.
Case in point: my reception at the Queens Botanical Garden was warm and embracing, which would not have been the case if I had shown up on my own. No one would have treated me poorly, but no one would have known who I was or given me a second glance. When fantastic little girls are your posse, you are a 100% winner wherever you go.
Our children are better versions of ourselves, bright and new to the world with endless possibilities in front of them. When we’re well received based on being with them, it reflects their position in the world and how they’re being raised.
We’re doing something right.
The savage madness of New York City Pre-Kindergarten
Having children in New York City means a life of deadlines and bureaucratic navigation. While every child is guaranteed a public education, it takes immersion into byzantine administration in order to ensure your offspring can access the best schools available, and the grapevine is full of horror stories and cautionary tales of kids being sent far from home to sub-par schools.
My wife and I are waiting to hear where our older girls will attend preschool. Universal Pre-K started several years ago and it’s free to all kids the year they turn four years old. We are lucky in that we live in an area that has good local schools. A lot of younger couples have kids and then find themselves racing a clock to get to a better neighborhood in or out of the five boroughs that has suitable education choices.
I am blessed with a great asset in making sure my kids get into a decent Pre-K: my wife. She was the one who did the research and learned how to traverse the absurdist labyrinth of rules and applications (e.g.: applying to only one or two schools won’t work, if you do that, the system will automatically fill in the other choices for you, so your attempt to limit the choices may backfire big time). She figured out which ones were closest and had good ratings, and came up with a list of preferences that will mean our older girls are likely to be in a good place.
The schools we applied to include both public and private schools close to where we live that run public Pre-K programs.
One of those public/private Pre-K schools is a place called Holy Mountain. This school does not have any religious affiliation that we can discern. It has a mostly Asian student population, but so do most schools in our area (we live in Flushing, Queens, an area known for its large Chinese immigrant population; it has a large Korean population as well).
But the name Holy Mountain will always first make me think of the 1973 Alejandro Jodorowski film, The Holy Mountain, which I first saw projected onto a wall during a punk rock show many years ago. It is an art film filled with strange and bizarre images, even watching the trailer many years later is to step away from reality for a few minutes. One of the most well-known and memorable images of the film include a parade of crucified dogs that have been skinned and disemboweled.
So now whenever my wife and I discuss Pre-K for our kids and we note that Holy Mountain was one of our top choices (it’s nearby and it has high ratings with a Montessori-based teaching style, so what if it has a weird name), all I can think about is my older girls parading down 31st Road in gas masks while carrying crucified dogs.
This week, the results came in: and our girls will be headed to Holy Mountain in September. Mutilated canine parade, here we come! I now need to watch that film again. I’ll have to find a time when the rest of my family is asleep, as I am the only one in my household who has this big a taste for eccentric cinema.
We are lucky to live in an area where such services are available within walking distance. For the value it returns, no investment in public education can be too big.
Doktor Kaboom Drops Science on the Queens Theatre
Queens Theatre in Flushing Meadows Corona Park is not one of the park’s better-known attractions. The iconic Unisphere gets much more attention, and the Queens Zoo probably sees a lot more foot traffic, but the Queens Theatre is a lesser-known gem in the large park.
This past weekend it was the sight of a recent performance by Doktor Kaboom, a comedic science performer who has a family-friendly show that targets impressionable young children and works to give them a love of science.
The good Doktor, with his spiky blond hair and thick faux-German accent, looks and sounds like the love child of Guy Fieri and Angela Merkel (who has a PhD in Physics), but he’s actually a native of North Carolina who lives in Seattle and found a way to combine his love of comedy and science.
The whole family went and we were lucky enough to have extra tickets for a friend and his daughter. The Queens Theatre mainstage theater seats 472 and the rows are on a gradient generous enough to provide decent viewing from all angles.
After a brief introduction, Doktor Kaboom took the stage and we were on our way. The entire show is geared towards children, working to spark an interest in science and there’s no better way to do that than to show them that science allows you to make a mess. Using a catapult to try to help a young volunteer from the audience catch a piece of banana in his mouth, the bit had the stage littered with banana pretty quickly and it was good fun. I vowed to never feed my children bananas the same way again, but I’m not sure I am going to be able to build a catapult fast enough to realize this dream.
One of the best parts of the show was when the good Doktor implored the kids there to have confidence and faith in themselves. He said that at a previous show a 10-year-old kid said that he was a failure, even though he was a bright young man who could speak three languages. That base level of self respect is sadly missing from a lot in our society.
Unfortunately, some basic theater manners are also lacking. The Doktor had to remind the audience to refrain from using mobile phones, which is Theater Manners 101. Lack of civility as well as a dropping aptitude in the sciences are general signs of societal rot and sad to see, but at least there’s one guy out there fighting the good fight. That guy wears old-fashioned goggles, a bright orange lab coat, and shoes with flames painted on them.
But that didn’t slow down the show. There is a lot of safety instruction in the Doktor Kaboom show, even though the worst you may be exposed to is high-velocity banana and some soapy residue. He manages to use some optical illusions to trick your mind in ways that even jaded adults will find fascinating, and he takes time to explain what is happening in terms that children can understand. There are also plenty of under-the-radar jokes for adults as well.
There were no loud explosions as the Doktor Kaboom name might imply, but fear not. The show is well worth the time and has a big impact.
Navigating the winter wonderland of the Queens Zoo
When the weather is bad, our family goes to the zoo. Our logic is this: Many of the indoor spaces will be overcrowded and the zoo will be sparsely populated. When you’ve lived in the city long enough, avoiding crowds is more important than avoiding pneumonia.
So this past weekend’s snowfall made our planned trip to Westchester unwise, but made a short drive to the zoo a piece of cake. The parking lot on 111th Street that is a chaotic mess and a graveyard of public parking dreams during the summer had plenty of spaces. I pulled into a space right near the ramp we would need for our youngest daughter’s stroller.
One of the goals for this weekend was to help give my wife time alone at home to prepare our home for Christmas. I was on my own for several hours with three children all under four years of age, and found myself pushing a stroller through a moderate snowfall in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park on our way to the Queens Zoo. There was a small group of teenagers having a snowball fight when we got there, and one cyclist pedaled past us and shot me a strange look is if to be amazed he came across someone crazier than he was out in the snow.
While the children were equipped with proper hats and coats, one pair of mittens was inevitably quickly lost and our youngest got wet and hungry very fast. The snowfall was not bad. It was only one or two inches in the city and the snow did not stick to the streets very well. A few runs of a plow with some sand and salt made things OK. But cold kids make for cranky kids and herding three youngsters through the wet and cold is a chore with an additional distraction (snow) that is also a physical obstacle. The front wheels of the stroller would stop cutting through and spin in a sideways fashion, gathering reels of snow around themselves like some perverse cotton candy machine. Otherwise they would stop moving completely and I’d be essentially be operating the world’s most ineffective snow plow.
The Queens Zoo is a perfect place to bring kids because it’s relatively small compared with its larger and more famous counterpart The Bronx Zoo. It can be done thoroughly in a morning or afternoon. Arriving at the zoo after a snowfall revealed a hushed atmosphere covered in a gorgeous layer of fresh white powder that proved perfect for making snowballs. It was one of those days when you look around and can’t believe you are in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world. A few times you would hear the rush of the highway or the sounds of people playing in the park outside the zoo’s fence, but it was desolate and beautiful and well worth the soggy feat and cold hands.
The zoo posts the times of the sea lion feeding and I had to hustle to get us there in time. When we got to the sea lions, there was one other couple there. This couple were the only other non-zoo employees we saw during our entire stay. They huddled under an umbrella while two of my daughters climbed a snow-covered rock and declared it their mountain and the other sat on the wet ground to have a better vantage point to scream her undefined infant rage at the world. That’s right, normal couple at the zoo: my children are many times tougher than you and earned the grudging respect of the animal kingdom.
We had an up-close view of the sea lion feeding up close but cut it short because we were all hungry. The Sea Lion Café offered a warm, dry refuge and sold hot coco and coffee among its souvenirs and snacks. We took our time eating before we bundled up again, only go head to a restroom where it was necessary to take coats off again. We easily killed 20 minutes in the restroom, making sure everyone either used the toilet or had a diaper change. Then back out into the snow.
The girls enjoyed looking at the animals but probably enjoyed handling the snow and stomping on puddles more. Even though my wife had packed more than adequate snacks for us, “snow burgers” became a much sought-after treat, and there was no keeping my young charges from indulging in them, only trying to police the color and source of the snow (only white snow, not from the ground).
We marveled at how close the sea lions and the bison came to us, and followed with a mad dash to get to a restroom again. By the time we finished there and thought about returning to glimpse more animals, security guards looked to be closing the zoo for the day. It was just as well, my girls were showing signs of fatigue and by the time I got them back to our van and buckled in, they slept soundly for two hours while I went on a coffee-fueled road trip from Corona to Flushing and Bayside.
I returned home with three tired children to a home in much better order. Mission accomplished.
Looking to snap out of a slumber
It wasn’t too hot when I had a few minutes to catch up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a year. We brought our kids to Francis Lewis Park, where there is a playground with a sprinkler and a view of Flushing Bay and the Whitestone Bridge.
“I don’t know how you own three of these things,” he said as my two older girls played with his son. Our youngest is only a year old and he and his wife have a three-year-old son.
“I don’t either.”
Having children is something that everyone is terrified of but no one regrets. Spending time with your kids is a great thing and you’ll regret not getting in every minute with them. But when they are as young as ours are, it leaves you too tired to do anything else. Many a night began with great plans and ended with me falling asleep on the couch at 10:15 p.m.
At the park our children go different ways in the playground. I don’t mind staying back and sitting down and watching the kids from a distance. You can’t be hovering over them all the time. But the world being the way it is, you don’t want to let your kids out of your sight for too long. A few times I lose sight of one of the girls and I start to get worried looking for her and just before I break out into a fearful disaster sweat she’ll come into view. This happens a few times and it wears you down a bit further.
My friend and I talk music, mutual friends, and the itch to be creative and make music. His son wants to go down to the water, to where there’s a great view of the Whitestone Bridge and a miniscule beach at the end of a small boat launch. I and my two older girls accompany them. We are disappointed by the amount of garbage on the beach and in the water but the view of the bay and the bridge, makes up for this.
One of my girls isn’t wearing any shoes since she was running through the sprinkler in the playground and I don’t think anything of it until we get to the boat launch and see some broken glass there. I curse myself for letting her come down here with no shoes on. On further inspection this turns out to be sea glass—glass that’s been in the water long enough that it’s been made smooth. Sea glass makes for a nice collectible and I tell the girls I will take this home for them to enjoy later. New York City will disappoint you and impress you in quick succession.
A lot of my friends also have kids but I also have many friends who are smart, creative people, the kind of people who should be doing more reproducing, but aren’t. I highly recommend having kids, though I realize it’s not for everyone.
My friend and I talk a bit more, discuss doing music again, what our schedules will look like later this year, and how we have the itch.
The itch, the need to produce art in some form, it never goes away and is a call that has to be answered. Children, jobs, the multitude of tasks one has to perform just to keep a roof over one’s head and the bills paid on time, these will slow you down, but they can’t kill whatever fire drives you to create.
Celebrating independence with friends and explosives
The Fourth of July every year brings with it many great traditions: hot dogs, fireworks, partying to excess with friends and family. And every year I have partied with high school friends in a way that embraces all of these observances.
My high school friend Steve and his wife Paige put on a great 4th of July party that brings in friends from far and wide.
Steve is the center of our social circle among most of my Connecticut friends. When we were in high school, his mother’s house was our central meeting place, and Mrs. Q was a second mother to a lot of us. She is missed. Steve and Paige’s house has become a second home to many. They have helped many friends and relatives who have needed places to stay. Even friends with perfectly good homes of their own nearby wind up spending a lot of time at Steve and Paige’s house.
The day of the party, circumstances delayed our departure until after 2 p.m. Driving on I-95 in Connecticut is its own special hell, and a Saturday on a holiday weekend it was an infernal misery of traffic. A two-hour drive became a three-hour drive, and since our kids had already napped at home, they screamed and cried for much of that three-hour drive. When we finally pulled onto our friends’ property, it was after 5 p.m.
I didn’t have time to make the stop for fireworks like I normally do. The forecast called for rain.
Once we got there, it was great to be among friends again.
Steve is a very handy person. He turned his one-story house into a two-story home and constructed his own out-buildings to keep farm animals on his property. He got me into hunting, gave me good advice on how to move about the woods, and helped me field dress my first deer. He also introduced me to the works of Arthur Schopenhauer and we’ve debated both the immutably dark nature of human existence until the wee hours of the morning.
Steve and I were both financial journalists for a while. After being laid off and being without a regular job for a long time, Steve began working in shipbuilding by helping to renovate the historic Amistad. He has since began working on boats in Newport, Rhode Island. More than a year ago, he told me he could not go back to working behind a desk. At the party he said he hated having to be away from his family for so long for his job, but that he loves his job. He wakes up every morning and looks forward to going to work. It was something I had heard about but didn’t think I’d see.
A man who loves his job today is rare. I expected to see Bigfoot or get kidnapped by a UFO before one of my friends told me they loved going to work every day. Even though he loves to play the part of a curmudgeon, he looked sincerely happier than he’s been in the past. It was great to see and I can’t think of someone who deserves that more than Steve. He brings a lot of good thoughts and much-needed perspective to a lot of his friends. I know I’ve been better for having had long conversations with him and I’m far from alone.
He’s been writing a lot of good poetry lately as well and posting his poems online. He’s getting to see new things, and be inspired by his work with ships. “In so many ways, sailing is freedom like most of us can’t even understand.” He messaged me at one point.
A while into our time at the party, I found Steve sitting on a lawn chair in the back of his pickup truck. With him was our friend Jay. The two were perfectly content to sit with their beer there and observe the party from their perch. But they soon began to attract a crowd. Everyone wanted to stop by and enjoy the conversation. In between searching for and wrangling my children and stuffing my face with food, I discussed poetry with Steve.
We agreed that two men sitting in the back of a pickup truck was good fodder for a poem and we decided to each write a poem with this as the theme.
The party continued and despite my not being able to contribute to the supply of ordnance, there were still plenty of fireworks. My twin girls asked to be brought inside and skip the rest of the barrage after getting a bit too close to the pyrotechnics. Inside Jay was making his outstanding jambalaya, and we got a peek at the culinary genius at work.
We stayed late and got on the road for home after 11:30 p.m. Someday we’ll stay overnight in a tent on our friends’ lawn like my wife and I did before we had children.
It was a great way to celebrate Independence Day. The national politics evolves and devolves, and no matter your perspective, it’s easy to become discouraged. The strength of our country lies in the bonds we form with friends and neighbors, and at Steve and Paige’s house, a strong community thrives on its own.
Drive time solitude amid the slumber
I was put in the terrifying position of watching over all three of my young children on my own for several hours. My wife does this every day as I commute to work in Manhattan and back. But she was doing food demonstrations for Flushing C.S.A. at an event at the historic John Bowne House recently and I was on my own with our three girls.
I had not planned what to do but my wife convinced me that taking them to the New York Hall of Science would be good. She was spot on. If you have young children and if it’s convenient to get to, the New York Hall of Science is a great place.
We stayed as long as we could but after about four and a half hours there, our three-year-olds had clothes that were wet from one of the water exhibits and it was time to start heading home. We had arrived before it was open but we left around 2:15 p.m. and I made a bee line straight for home and kept up conversation with the kids as best I could, hoping the motion of driving would not put the girls to sleep, but it did.
Kids napping in the car is a double-edged sword. On one hand the kids are guaranteed to take a nap at the same time. On the other hand that nap will not be that long and you will be stuck in your vehicle for an hour. Sometimes that’s fine but sometimes that doesn’t work at all. You can’t go on a long trip because the kids could wake up at any time and start crying and you’ll need to take them home quickly. If you have to go to the bathroom, you are out of luck and may have to improvise.
I realized less than a mile from home that I was now going to be spending at least the next hour or more in the minivan. I was at peace with that.
Drive time can be a time of much-appreciated solitude. Quiet solitude is remarkably achievable even when you’re living in a city of millions of people. The size of New York gives its citizens a certain degree of anonymity. During my drive I passed by thousands of people, had close encounters with maybe half dozen drivers down narrow two-way streets, and did business with one fast food worker. I could give you the basic pedigree information about the fast food worker but nothing else, and I doubt anyone I encountered during that hour and a half could tell you anything about me.
When you spend most of your days without any peace and quiet, you learn to appreciate any small moments of quiet solitude you can get, and these drive times with napping children can be very valuable. They are something that takes the edge off of the frantic pace of the city, that gives us a moment to enjoy the sights and sounds of our own corner of this metropolis without interruption. The same can be said of walks in the park or even walking anonymously down city streets.
Our teeming Gotham demands much of us and part of the thrill of living here is to embrace the breakneck pace of life. But when you get a chance for an hour of respite, no matter how diluted, grasp onto it and enjoy every minute.
Science is usually our friend
This weekend our family attended an event called the Queens SOUP that was hosted by the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce. The event raises money for a worthwhile community group and participants vote for a winning group from among four that make presentations for projects. My wife was one of the presenters for the Flushing C.S.A.
The winning group was the Lewis H. Latimer House’s Summer Tinker Lab. Lewis Latimer was a prominent African-American scientist who contributed greatly to the invention of the light bulb and was instrumental in the spreading use of electricity. His former home is a preserved historic site in Flushing. The Latimer House’s presentation consisted of a music demonstration that allowed children to use a circuit and a laptop to make music with basic household items.
Our twins love music and it was great to watch them thrill at the discovery of the circuit concept and to have that associated with music. We want our girls to join the Tinker Lab program when they are old enough. The relatively small grant that the Latimer House received was nonetheless a victory for science.
Earlier that same day, thousands of people marched around the country in a “March for Science,” protesting the current White House’s policies that labels climate change theory as either a hoax or exaggerated. The march also looked to show disgust with the general anti-intellectual attitude that many conservative establishment politicians have tended to embrace in recent decades. Science is great and is certainly worth of the reverence, but let’s take a look at what adhering to science means.
“Science” to me means the skilled application of learning through the empirical method of observation, experimentation, and theorization. It usually results in a consensus view among those who practice the scientific method.
Science does not abide by any values other than those used by those conducting those experiments. Dr. Jonas Salk, who discovered the polio vaccine, was a scientist. So was Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who conducted cruel experiments on victims at Auschwitz. They each made discoveries that advanced the causes of medicine, but they are rightfully not held in the same esteem by our civilization.
Science cannot be claimed as a mantle by any partisan cause. The people who “Marched for Science” this past weekend were embracing those scientific findings that supported their ideas. We may agree with those ideas, but we can’t ignore that these are values-driven at their core.
Science will ultimately thwart attempts to make it the show horse of any political movement. If the mastery of science is by itself our only measure, then J. Robert Oppenheimer should be on as many t-shirts as Neil deGrasse Tyson. He’s not. And like our politics, scientific consensus is subject to change. What passes for common sense today might be considered foolhardy balderdash in a few years’ time.
So let us embrace science at every turn and let our children know it is fun. But let’s not pretend that science is always our friend. It’s going to prove us wrong at some point and leave us with very uncomfortable conclusions. But living life means facing those awkward moments and making sure your kids are prepared to face them too.
Your guide to finding sane holiday spots
Among the many holiday traditions that we go through are finding the fine balance between indulging in all the requisite holiday traditions with children while not creating a burning hatred of the holidays within yourself.
Considering that I live in one of the largest urban centers of the known universe, I am very much averse to crowds and would rather not go where there is a crush of people. And it’s not that these are New York crowds that makes my hatred of crowds so strong, I’ve found that in places like Atlanta, where the crowds are often suburbanites with not concept of urban life or shared space, people are more likely to get on your nerves and not know how to move or act in a crowded space. New York has more than its share of clueless retards who don’t know how to ride an escalator or even walk down a hallway, but there is at least a baseline population of those that do that can make life here bearable.
So the holidays tend to bring the tourists and other urban amateurs within the five boroughs to see the sights and sounds. We need their tourist dollars to help keep this show afloat, but we can see a lot of beautiful holiday stuff without having to endure the hoard of vapid slow-walkers that make visiting our beautiful city a shit show.
When some of my family wanted to head to Times Square the day after Christmas a few years ago, I thought they were out of their minds. I still went along with them anyway because I didn’t want to miss out on spending some time with family. While I was trying to navigate my way out of the giant M&Ms World store, I vowed to no god that I would avoid crushing holiday crowds at all cost.
I am very lucky and in a rare position as a New York City dweller in that I have regular access to an automobile. Part of that is a function of where in the city I live. I’m in a more suburban part of Eastern Queens. I’m still in the thick of a crowded city, but I’m in an area where driving a car is not the abysmal insanity that it is in Manhattan or parts of Brooklyn. That gives us options to get to places that are off limits to a lot of my family and friends, including people with kids, so take my advice with a grain of salt.
I had a day off of work and we managed to get our brood, along with the help of grandparents, to Hicks Nurseries on Long Island. It has a lot of beautiful holiday stuff there – really nice trees and ornaments that lend dignity and beauty to the holiday. They also have a lot of the schlocky crap you’d expect people from Long Island to love (sorry Long Island friends but it’s true).
Hicks Nurseries on a weekday is a good time, on the weekend it’s a madhouse. It’s a nice madhouse and a nice place to get Christmas stuff, but a madhouse nonetheless – their credit card readers are also ancient and it declined my credit card even though it wasn’t overdrawn or anything.
While I try not to simply phone it in for the holidays, I want to lead by example for the children. If your kids see you going apeshit over Christmas, they’re going to go apeshit over Christmas too. If you act like Santa is maybe no big deal, then your kids won’t ask to stand in line for an hour to meet a man in a Santa suit. So when I saw people lining up an hour ahead of time to meet “Santa” at Hicks, I knew I didn’t want to linger. We did buy a tree though despite their credit card malfeasance.
For a good Santa with little to no waiting, head to Old Westbury Gardens. It’s a worthwhile place to visit any time of the year. It’s the former estate of wealthy attorney and industrial heir John Shaffer Phipps that is now open to the public and well preserved. There are interesting events there all year round. We brought our kids there for an arts & crafts event and discovered that they have a Santa Claus there on the weekends. There was no waiting. It was free (with admission to the grounds) and the Santa was friendly. Our girls did not want to sit on Santa’s lap and even expressed some skepticism afterwards (“Santa didn’t say ‘Ho, ho ho,’” one of our girls observed).
I’m very much looking forward to the holidays this year, and not just because I’m going to be getting some nice gifts and eat delicious food, but because I’m going to be spending more time with family, including my smart and tough daughters. Our family has had a lot of down moments this year, with death and illnesses putting a damper on everything. But getting to take time away from the busy workday and put in time with family, where it counts, is something to be joyous about, even in the most jaded of times.
The kindness of strangers on a bus in Queens
Living in New York City for a long time can leave you jaded and expecting the worst of humanity. Actually, living anywhere on Earth for a long time can leave you with a pretty dismal view of the world. Sometimes there are times in city life that surprise you and give you some hope for humanity.
My wife was away all day this past Saturday, leaving me alone for the first extended period of time with our three children, all of whom are under three years of age. “Three under three” is apparently a very difficult thing to do. Having three kids in this day and age, especially for employed city dwellers, is a rarity. I have a lot of friends with kids and can only think of three of them that have three. Most have one or two. Raising kids is not easy but I’ll be damned if I don’t do my part. I’m going to keep trying until I get a son or until my wife kills me in my sleep.
Anyway, I could not sit inside with my children all day. It’s important to get kids out and about to see and experience the world lest they become agoraphobic sociopaths who play video games or spend all day on social media. So I bought tickets online to see The Cat Came Back: Stories and Songs with A Jazzy Twist at Flushing Town Hall, which is about a half mile from our home.
Too far to make toddlers walk and not blessed with a large enough parking lot to make driving an option, the best method of getting there was by bus.
In New York City, bus travel is at the lowest end of the social totem pole. It’s a deal breaker for many residents, which is why apartments are still somewhat affordable in our neighborhood and why our slice of the city hasn’t been hit with the same level of gentrification as those closer to the subway. Bus travel gives you all the crowded unpleasantness of a packed subway with the lurching frustration of sitting in city traffic.
But my two two-year-olds don’t mind the bus. My older (by one minute) daughter enjoys taking the bus and is downright disappointed and angry if we drive by car. The bus is an adventure and seeing new people and things. It means not being strapped into a car seat and being able to turn around in her set and look out the window. While to most adults it’s a confining mode of transit that makes you feel like a loser, to a little kid used to the constraints of our safety-conscious society, the public bus is a respite from the constricted life.
So I put our infant daughter in a baby carrier and walked across the street from our building to wait for the bus to take us to Flushing Town Hall. After waiting a while, a Q20 arrived. We were first in line but were waiting for a Q34. I mentioned this as I waived people ahead of us, and a fellow passenger told me that the Q34 doesn’t run on the weekends.
We got on the bus and people were very deferential and offered me their seat so I could sit next to our two twin girls, who are two and a half. I preferred to stand anyway, and tried to join the girls in “The Wheels on the Bus,” but they were too interested in looking at the world outside the bus to join me in much singing.
The bus driver was very nice to us, and made sure I didn’t miss my stop. At one point he left the back door open and said, “That door is for you!” but he wasn’t talking to me, but rather a fare beater who had snuck in the back at the stop. Anyway, people on the bus moved to let me sit even though I told them I didn’t want to. As long as the girls have a place to sit I’m fine. I prefer to stand on public transportation anyway.
The concert at Flushing Town Hall was good and the girls were patient for most of the show. By the time they got really restless and needed to be taken home, the show was winding down. It was a nice time and even though a lot of the folk tales were over the girls’ heads, it’s always good to expose children to culture and the arts.
On the bus back home, people were again very generous and helpful. Even though one old lady was crabby and told a man he didn’t belong in the elderly/handicapped seat next to her, people were nice to the guy herding three kids around. I emerged from what is usually a transit hell with a sense that human beings can be decent once in a while, at least towards small children.
Thankful in 2015
Thanksgiving is coming up and there are a lot of things to be thankful for. It is easy to look at the state of the world and feel that our generation got the short end of the stick and that things were better years ago. The human species has a habit of romanticizing the past to a fault. The present always looks lacking to Americans in general and New Yorkers in particular because we are an ambitious people who always see better possibilities.
But if we are living safely with food in our stomachs and a roof over our head, we should be thankful; there are a few billion people who would gladly trade places with us.
Here are some things I am particularly thankful for:
Family. I am lucky to not only have a wife and kids who love me but numerous other relatives and step-relatives who love me also. I can tap into the wisdom of several aunts and uncles, cousins, and my amazing grandmother, the indomitable matriarch who is our rock. My family has demonstrated time and again how to persevere through hardship and loss with grace and strength. I am lucky to be of such strong blood.
Health. No doubt my steady diet of weekend egg sandwiches has left me the worse for wear and my back is a scramble of slipped disks and strained muscles, but compared to many people, I am in very good health. I know too many family and friends who have suffered bad setbacks to take my health for granted.
Employment. While I have known great unemployment and underemployment in my time, I am currently gainfully employed at a stable company. Having worked as a journalist for nearly 15 years, I crossed over “to the dark side” of public relations last year. I landed in a good place with smart, friendly co-workers; a lot of people can’t say that.
Creative Ambition. One of the reasons I am lucky to have the family I do is that I’ve inherited my family’s desire to create. My family is full of writers, musicians, actors and more and I am honored to be among them. Being creative gives you a constant reason to live even when all else looks dismal.
America. While the American Empire is deep into its twilight, the America I grew up with and love is very much alive though casting a cautious eye towards the future. America is the greatest nation on Earth because it is my country. We have a lot of problems, but we have a lot of freedom that many people never see.
New York City. No city inspires as much simultaneous love and hatred from its inhabitants as New York. There is no other place on Earth that is constantly rewriting its own mythology and acts such a magnet for creativity and ambition. New York will outlive us all. As much as we hate to see New York change, we know it will never die as long as the Earth remains intact.
Children of the Corn Maze
Every year in the underrated borough of Queens, New York, the Queens County Farm Museum holds the annual County Fair. It’s pretty small as far as county fairs go, especially when you consider that Queens is one of the most populated municipalities in the country and is undisputedly the most ethnically diverse place on Earth. But it has all the features of a good country fair: there is overpriced junk food, agricultural exhibits, arts and crafts, and even hay rides.
There is also a corn maze. Adults can pay nine dollars apiece for the honor of finding their way through the corn maze and feel like completely lost fools for an hour or so. Every year the maze is in a different design with an image that carries a theme throughout the whole ‘The Amazing Maize Maze’ experience. This year the corn was planted in a design of a jokey on horseback to celebrate American Pharaoh winning horse racing’s Triple Crown just outside of Queens at the Belmont Stakes.
I went through the corn maze with my wife a few years ago before we had children. I didn’t enjoy it very much. My wife wanted to get our toddler daughters out of the apartment and give them something interesting to do. A corn maze is an old American tradition and one you wouldn’t think you’d find in New York City. But the Queens County Farm Museum is a verdant oasis in the middle of our sprawling metropolis, and it seems wrong not to take full advantage of all it offers.
We got to the fair and made our way through the petting zoo and to the corn maze. I paid our admission and asked if we would be allowed to take the stroller with us. The people working the maze said that while we could bring the stroller with us, the corn maze could be narrow and muddy in places and we were better off without it. Our girls have been fully mobile for months now, so a brisk walk through the corn would do them some good. It would serve to tire them out and get them ready for their post-lunch nap.
We were issued a flag on a tall piece of narrow PVC pipe and a paper map that we would fill out as we found clues and mailboxes with map pieces throughout the maze. We started our walk, holding our daughters’ hands and relishing the lovely afternoon among the corn stalks.
I quickly remembered why I didn’t like the corn maze several years ago. It embodies two things that I like the least: being hot and sweaty and getting lost. It was an unseasonably warm day and the corn provides no shade. The sun was at its highest and no one had a choice but to get lost. Our daughters tired out first and my wife and I had to carry them everywhere. The girls cried whenever we tried to put them down, which we needed to do frequently to gather clues and map pieces.
We kept at it though, not wanting to bail out before we found our way out of this confounded crypt of corn. We kept running into many of the same people who were trying to make their escape as well. Every few minutes another group would find their exit and a happy-sounding employee would announce it over a public address system that was otherwise belching warmed-over pop tunes. “OK, we have another victor, what is your name??!”
Workers oversee the maze from a raised platform and a separate tower. In at least one spot within the maze, a length of irrigation tubing serves as a communication conduit and a monitor in a tower will provide a clue once you give him or her the password.
“I need a Triple Crown,” I gave the password to a young man at the other end of the tubing.
His answer was a cryptic clue-laden sentence along the lines of, “Sectors five and six are the hardest ones you seek, mount the horse to get a peek.”
“You want us to start doing heroin,” I mentioned. I actually took it to mean that we should head for the part of the maze depicted as the horse or jockey, but he offered no advice on how to get to that location. Other maze workers who roam around within the giant puzzle offered more tangible clues and to the staff’s credit, the corn maze is run very well. Just be sure to bring lots of extra water and if you have children under three bring something to carry them in.
After much walking around and getting lost over and over again, we eventually found our way to the exit. We emerged as victors, thirsty and miserable and vowing to do it differently next time.
It took us 56 minutes to get through the corn maze and we got out too late to catch the Great Cordone’s 12:30 show, which had people spilling out of the show tent.
We made our way through the fair and over to where most of the food was. My wife celebrated our surviving the corn maze by ordering some roasted sweet corn. The girls couldn’t have been happier.